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Trump Spends $300 Million in Taxpayer Money for COVID-19 Spin Campaign

The advertising campaign to "defeat despair" was the brainchild of HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo.


This week, Politico reported that HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo has spent over $300 million in taxpayer dollars to fund an advertising campaign aimed at putting a positive spin on the coronavirus pandemic. The project aimed to “defeat despair and inspire hope” around COVID-19, and was described as an “immediate surge public advertising and awareness campaign.”

The ads will be a series of videos where celebrities interview health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. So far, actor Dennis Quaid has signed on, as as gospel singer CeCe Winans. The campaign has tried to recruit Dr. Mehmet Oz and country music icon Garth Brooks. Clearly, Trump and his cronies are trying to put a positive spin on the over 200K coronavirus deaths and their failed response the crisis.

But where is the budget for this $300 million campaign coming from? It’s being taken from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other government agencies actively trying to solve the health crisis. But why try to protect the public from a virus when you can pay celebrities to lie about it instead? The federal government has largely abdicated their role in educating the public about the virus, placing responsibility on state and local governments. Even their actions belie any sort of uniform message, with members of the cabinet frequently gathering in close quarters and the president’s repeated refusal to wear a mask and his support of bogus quack medicine like hydroxychloroquine.

Former HHS official Josh Peck said of the project, “CDC hasn’t yet done an awareness campaign about Covid guidelines — but they are going to pay for a campaign about how to get rid of our despair? Run by political appointees in the press shop? Right before an election? … It’s like every red flag I could dream of.”

Caputo, a republican strategist and lobbyist with zero medical or health qualifications, said in a September 13 Facebook video that the ad campaign was “demanded of me by the president of the United States. Personally.” He continued his rant, claiming “The Democrats — and, by the way, their conjugal media and the leftist scientists that are working for the government — are dead set against it, … They cannot afford for us to have any good news before November because they’re already losing. … They’re going to come after me because I’m going to be putting $250 million worth of ads on the air.”

Caputo later apologized for his unhinged video rant, where he claimed without evidence that CDC scientists were plotting “sedition.” He has since resigned from his position citing health reasons. He has recently been diagnosed with metastatic head and neck cancer.

Questions of corruption also circle Caputo, who awarded money to third party contractors like his business partner/client Den Tolmor. Other business associates of Caputo have been hired in similar roles in the campaign.

House democrats have launched an investigation into the costly ad campaign that essentially functions as propaganda for Trump. Senior dems have sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, calling on him to stop the campaign.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) wrote, “We have grave concerns that, rather than focus on planning and executing a national strategy to contain the coronavirus, the Trump Administration is using a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to fund what appears to be a political propaganda campaign just two months before a presidential election.”

(via Politico, featured image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.